Joseph Francis Alward
The myth of the dangerous child was virtually universal in pre-biblical times: A child is born about whom certain prophecies have been made, and who represents a threat to a king or tyrant. The child is removed from danger and later returns in triumph.
The story of one of the better-known dangerous children was told in the epic poem "Mahabarata", written two centuries before Jesus' birth. In it, we are told of the Hindu faith's virgin-born Crishna who was prophesied to be the destroyer of the tyrant Kansa, who heard of it and ordered all the male children born at that time to be killed. Crishna survived because a heavenly voice warned his foster father to flee with the child.
Dangerous-child stories were told of
Buddha, Zoroaster, Hercules, Oedipus, Romulus and Remus, and many others
too numerous to mention; all of these legends pre-date that of Jesus by several
centuries. The most recent dangerous-child story--that of Jesus, as
told in the Bible by Matthew, deserves special attention.
Massacre of the Innocents
|This was just one more story so much like so
many others, cast this time in the specific mold of Crishna: birth of a
god-child, a threatened monarch, heavenly warning to the parent, and the
escape. The simple folk of that time were used to stories about these
dangerous-heroic child-saviors and were awaiting their own; Matthew made
sure his messiah candidate was qualified.
The Murder of the Dangerous Children
The world's population was about 200 million in 2 AD , and its present population is 5700 million and Israel's is six million. If we assume a proportional growth, there would have been about 209,000 persons in Palestine around the time of Jesus' birth. If we guess that the population of Bethlehem and surrounding district was about one fiftieth the population of Palestine, we arrive at a Bethlehem population of about 4,200. We furthermore assume that the age distribution ranged from zero to about forty. Thus, there would have been about one-twentieth of 4,200, or about 210 infants and toddlers under two years who were slashed to death by Herod's swordsmen.
If ten-score children had been murdered by
the Romans, there would have been unleashed a flood of contemporaneous
lamenting poems, art, and journalistic accounts. But, extremely
improbably, the story of the murderous Herod is found only in the
gospel according to Matthew; nowhere else in the Bible is it mentioned,
and no Jewish or Roman historians of that time says a word about this
sensational event. The Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus (110 AD), who
went out of his way to record every misdeed of despots and tyrants, was
completely silent. Silent also was Josephus (40 AD), the Jewish
historian who provided a detailed account of all the lesser evil-doings
of Herod up to the end of his life; not a word did he write about
Herod's massacre of the innocent children.
For the Glory of God
The reason why such a manifestly ridiculous
story for two millennia has been promulgated as truth by church fathers
is partly given by an anonymous historian quoted by T.W. Doane :
"The brow of many a theologian has been bent over this (Matthew) narrative! For, as long as people believed in the miraculous inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, of course they accepted every page as literally true, and thought that there could not be any contradiction between the different accounts or representations of Scripture. The worst of all such pre-conceived ideas is, that they compel those who hold them to do violence to their own sense of truth. For when these so-called religious prejudices come into play, people are afraid to call things by their right names, and without knowing it themselves, become guilty of all kinds of evasive and arbitrary practices; for what would be thought quite unjustifiable in any other case is here considered a duty, inasmuch as it is supposed to tend toward the maintenance of faith and the glory of God!"
 "Atlas of Wold Population
History, Facts on File", McEvedy, Colin and Richard Jones, pp.